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Monday, December 17, 2018

Benton Smith: Close or not, No. 1 Jayhawks’ victories valuable beyond their resume

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) turns to the bucket after catching the ball in the paint while defended by New Mexico State forward Johnny McCants (35) during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 at Sprint Center.

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) turns to the bucket after catching the ball in the paint while defended by New Mexico State forward Johnny McCants (35) during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 at Sprint Center.

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Now is not the time for apologies.

When you coach one of the nine undefeated teams in the country and, oh yeah, your team happens to be ranked No. 1 in the nation in both major polls, it’s hard to feel any remorse about winning a couple of those games in ugly fashion.

Would head coach Bill Self prefer that his Jayhawks didn’t have to recover from 12-point deficits against Louisiana, Marquette and Stanford en route to their 9-0 start? Of course.

But the 16th-year Kansas basketball coach said Monday he felt no need to justify the way KU has won some of its games.

“I think beating Villanova by 1, 3, 5, 7, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s, you beat Villanova. So for me, that doesn’t register,” Self responded, when presented with that notion.

Even so, Self quickly referenced other recent outings when the Jayhawks should have played at a higher level.

“That New Mexico State win, even though they’ve got a nice club, it shouldn’t have been a 3-point game. And then the Stanford win — those would be the two wins I would say, more than anything, that you would think that we could have had the chance to control the game a lot more than which we did. Both games, we had to come from behind to win,” Self said. “People can say whatever about that.”

The truth of the matter is neither Self nor his players should harbor too many regrets about KU’s scoring margin (83rd nationally, at +9.6 points per game) or trailing opponents in second halves or leading for less than half the game in wins over Stanford and New Mexico State.

The Jayhawks are winning, and they’re mostly doing so against a higher level of competition than other Power 5 programs.

According to KenPom.com’s national rankings entering the week, KU (ranked No. 3) owns victories over four top-40 teams: No. 8 Michigan State, No. 36 Marquette, No. 9 Tennessee and No. 18 Villanova.

And the Jayhawks’ victories over No. 111 Vermont, No. 145 Louisiana, No. 103 Stanford, No. 74 Wofford and No. 79 New Mexico State haven’t exactly destroyed the quality of their schedule. On the eve of their home matchup with No. 168 South Dakota, the Jayhawks ranked sixth on KenPom in strength of schedule, with only Purdue, fourth in that category, better among major Division I programs.

“Basically, we’ve played the second-hardest schedule in the country, technically, so far,” Self said. “And we still have at Arizona State and at Kentucky to go as far as headliner-type games.”

This KU team doesn’t possess the flash or surefire NBA talent of Duke (No. 2 in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls, but No. 1 according to KenPom). Still, the Jayhawks have won games this season when it appeared they wouldn’t. And there’s value in those experiences that can’t be tracked by metrics.

Most observers would tell you KU has yet to meet its potential. It’s true. And the Jayhawks would agree. That doesn’t mean they should ask for forgiveness because they have six single-digit victories.

“It’s justified to ask the question that we haven’t been as impressive as maybe some other teams that you’d think would be the first-ranked team,” Self said, “but I think our resume is pretty impressive.”

And, of course, it won’t take any hits when Big 12 play begins next month. Entering this week, KenPom had eight of the league’s teams ranked in the top 40: No. 3 KU, No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 20 Iowa State, No. 23 Kansas State, No. 28 TCU, No. 30 Oklahoma, No. 31 Texas and No. 40 West Virginia.

Comments

Ben Kane 3 months ago

let's be honest, being ranked #1 is meaningless. The only thing we need out of a ranking is to get a 1 seed and be able to dictate close to home games in the first 4 rounds of the tournament.

That being said, This team hasn't ever looked great but has gotten the job done every time including against some really tough competition. Now they are doing it without Doke, which says even more about the meaning of some of those tough wins.

last game's defensive intensity was the highest i've seen from a jayhawk team in a long while. if they can keep that up plus get Doke's defensive presence back, I think they can beat anyone in the country.

Side note: Bilas at one point called Vick the deadliest shooter in the country. Never would have thought i'd hear that a few years ago.

Len Shaffer 3 months ago

Well said, Ben.

And who knows, maybe a miracle will happen and Silvio will be able to play at some point. Then we'll REALLY be tough to beat.

Gary McCullough 3 months ago

Actually, being ranked #1 has a huge effect on student enrollment numbers. Apparently being one of the Jayhawk faithful in the Phog is a draw to come to KU. So the ranking helps in ways other than seeding and recruitment.

Ben Kane 3 months ago

while i can agree with that general concept, i doubt there is any way to distinguish #1 from continually being in the top 5 (or 10 if you prefer) which kansas almost always is. even if that could be separated, i doubt there is much of a difference in the grand scheme of it and all of that would pale in comparison to the prestige of a national title which has almost nothing to do with being ranked #1.

Joe Ross 3 months ago

I wrote this before, elsewhere:

The difficulty of the SOS combined with the realities that 1. We're a young team, 2. and many of its parts haven't played together, means that the outcome of the games thus far this season are NOT a surprise. Truth be told, the heavy diet of difficult opponents has probably hindered the progress of some of the players, particularly Grimes.

At this point in the season, the number of disappointments among the players is surprisingly high. Moore, KJ Lawson, McCormack and the aforementioned Grimes all fit the bill. I think everyone expected Charlie to be better than 3 points a game, and KJ better than 2-and-a-half. And as bad as that sounds, Moore over doubles McCormacks production, who doesn't average 1 basket per game as a post player. Much of this relates to the fact that he doesn't see the floor much, but this fact alone puts water on the hype from the preseason, when David was more highly touted. Suddenly we don't seem so deep in the post with Azubuike's injury.

And the perimeter play has been a surprise as well. A lot of it good, a lot of it bad. Raise your hand if you saw the emergence of Vick this season. And who predicted such poor play from Moore and Grimes?

We have some issues to work out, for sure. But if we can get Grimes going then we'll have 3 cylinders firing on the perimeter (Dotson, Vick) which is enough. Somehow we've gotta keep Azubuike healthy and pick up some heavier contribution from either Lightfoot or McCormack. We HAVE to have a third big to be able to come in and hold the line while Azubuike and Dedric Lawson rest. If we can get Grimes going and that other big Kansas will make a Final Four appearance.

John Strayer 3 months ago

I agree about the schedule...its nice the SOS is so high...but the cost has been the lack of development opportunities for young players. I know pundits bash easy schedules...but you've got to have something in place to help young players get on their feet and get started...and a couple of glorified scrimmages would fit that bill perfectly. I guess we get that chance tonight with South Dakota...then right back into the tough schedule with a road game against ASU.

Jay Scott 3 months ago

Joe....It was meaningless babble the first time.

Your mastery at posting what most 12 year olds in Lawrence could is impressive... Could you shorten it?

You've proven that you know nothing...how's Perry Ellis doing at replicating Harrison Barnes? Is his play in the Bundesliga close to getting him a gig as an NBA small forward with a max contract?

Dane Pratt 3 months ago

OMG Jay, give it a rest already. It’s embarrassing to see a grown man and fellow Jayhawk behave in such a childish manner. How many times are you going to bring up the Perry Ellis thing? Can’t you just bury the hatchet and move on?

Jay Scott 3 months ago

Dane...who is being childish?

Hilarity of the order of Joe's Perry Ellis rant deserves to live forever! Should the Monty Python dead parrot sketch be forgotten? Jason Bateman's "I don't know how they can play in diapers, Cotton. I never could."? Leslie Neilsen's “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” John Belushi's "was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor"?

They're funny and they're enduring BECAUSE they're stupid. The difference? All the above were pretending to be stupid....

No...truly stupid hilarity, especially the ranting type like Joe's has staying power. Anything less would just be unfair.

Dane Pratt 3 months ago

Seems like you have a lot of insightful observations when it comes to KU Sports when they are not written as a means of attacking someone. If you were going after a troll I would probably like them but when they are directed towards a fellow Jayhawk, not really interested. I disagree with a lot of the comments here but I still enjoy reading them, probably as much if not more than the articles.

But if that’s the way you want to roll that’s all I’m gonna say on the matter except that the Dead Parrot sketch is not Monty Pythons best work. Funny yes, but the Watch Smuggler is funnier and so is the Execution in Russia.

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